What did the Victorians ever do for us?

Last week, after an aborted start due to a meteorite impact (stone chip on windscreen!), we spent a couple of days away from home/work/the internet in Shropshire. We spent a bit of time at the birthplace of the industrial revolution, now home to a few museums… and a power station:

(Probably not PC but somehow seems an apt addition to the scenery considering the area’s past.)

Despite a closed road (travel was turning out to be a pain on this holiday!) we made it to the Blists Hill Victorian town, which was well worth the effort.

The town has it’s own printing shop where they were printing boxes to put bricks in, as you do. They had a couple of old presses, including one fantastic platen press. Probably a bit too big for the shed sadly.

Typesetting the kind of postcards they usually print probably doesn’t take too long, but the post office had a newspaper which would have been a huge effort to typeset… not to mention pulling apart again, cleaning and storing ready for the next edition. Movable type clearly has it’s drawbacks.

And yet there’s something far more tactile about the end result than modern printing, which got me thinking about a fairly random mashup of old and new technology. Instead of assembling all those individual pieces of cast metal by hand, could you print the whole thing using a 3d printer? Linotype may have cast complete lines as a single slug, but a 3d printer could produce whole paragraphs, or pages at a time. Ok, pointless I know: technology has moved on, and clearly in a more efficient direction, but I still want to try it!

(Alternatively, this random use for 3d printing could be even more fun!)

Photo of metal type © no_typographic_man cc by-nc-nd 2.0

Weather Underground + Mashup Hub + Pachube = orb food

The hardware side of my ambient orb project is almost finished, so I’ve been making a start at the other end: getting some data to display. Top of my wish list is to display a basic weather forecast on the orbs, which looks like it could be nice and simple thanks to the very handy Weather Underground service. There’s a decent weather station nearby for current readings, and the forecast for Southampton has been pretty accurate so far, both of which are available through the Weather Underground API.

I could process the resulting XML on my home server but, having been doing some work with mashups recently, I thought I’d create a feed mashup instead. I’ve played with Yahoo Pipes in the past but this time I created a feed using Mashup Hub on Lotus Greenhouse:

So that screen shot is probably not all that helpful in understanding what’s going on; this style of graphical programming is fairly common these days but I would personally like to see more advanced ways to document and share diagrams like this. Still, this one is pretty simple, so here’s a quick overview:

  • The path at the top extracts the current temperature from the local weather station data
  • The middle path makes use of some very handy date functions in Mashup Hub to pick out entries 12 hours ahead from the forecast data
  • The bottom path does a lookup on the forecast conditions to replace a text forecast with a numeric code

Which all ends up being published as a much simpler piece of XML. I could just grab this XML directly and process it on the Arduino, or I could save some effort and convert the mashed up XML to an even simpler comma separated list using an XML to CSV converter written for the Pachube community. Well, now it would be trivial to create a Pachube feed for the weather forecast as well… so here it is

Perhaps not the most direct route for getting a weather forecast but I think it’s a nice example of how anyone can pull together data they are interested in without any programming, or a server of their own. I’m also quite please with the results of the forecasts so far; 13 C and clear tomorrow in theory!

Pic and Mix

Unfortunately decorating the bathroom is higher up the to do list than blogging at the moment — I’d rather be blogging as I’ve yet to gas myself typing on a computer! — so I haven’t had a chance to mention some cool and interesting things that have been cluttering up my list of open browser tabs. While I wait for the paint fumes to subside before going to bed, here are a few of them, in no particular order…

First from the Mix and Mash Blog, and giving this post its title, Pic and Mix project from Kent County Council: I wonder if Eastleigh do anything similar.

From John’s Random Musings, Exposing your WebSphere logs as ATOM feeds: definitely want to give this a try with MDM Server.

From knolleary.net, Twitterlogue: wish twitter had been around when I was in New Zealand. Brilliant.

From developerWorks, Leverage DataPower SOA Appliances to extend InfoSphere Master Data Management Server security capabilities: looks interesting but I haven’t had a chance to read it in detail yet.

And finally, also from developerWorks, two new articles for the user interface generator:

Do you want iWidgets with that?

I’ve been looking at widgets and mashups a fair bit recently and one of the questions that comes up is around what the best approach for widgets is; should a single widget do a lot, or should multiple widgets be used instead. Obviously every situation is different and there may be reasons to favour one approach over another at different times. The following example occurred to me which might show what the pros and cons are.

Say I was developing a clock widget. There are already Google gadget clocks, so it seems like a reasonable widget to want to have. I could split different parts of the clock across multiple widgets, all sending/receiving events to coordinate the display of a particular time. In the example below, there’s a widget for the hour hand, minute hand, second hand, and whether it’s the morning or afternoon. There’s nothing technically wrong with the resulting mashup – I can tell what time is being shown – but using that many widgets does not really add any value, and there’s not a lot of space left for anything else on my screen.


At the other end of the scale, the example below uses a single widget to display the time. On its own, there wouldn’t be much point using a widget to show the time. It might look funky (well, if any time had been spent making the clock look better than my quick sketches) and I could move it around but you could do all that with a bit of javascript and style sheets on any old web page. Except, if the widget sends and receives events, you can use it in a mashup. There’s plenty of room for other widgets, and in this example selecting a person shows where they are located and their local time, so I know if it’s a good time to phone.


Obviously a clock is a pretty specific, and simplistic, example. There’s a pretty good illustration in the Enterprise Master Data Management book (Figure 2.3, page 73) which shows the two extremes in more general terms:

The first clock was modular, but it was tightly coupled; there were several pieces but only one usage.


Photo (cc) Karva Javi

The second clock, and other widgets in the mashup, were modular and loosely coupled; there were several pieces and many usages.


(Now i just need to think of an example of a widget that does too much!)

Information on Demand 2008

A slightly overdue look back at the Information on Demand conference; check Stephen’s post for another.

I spent most of the week in the InfoSphere demo room so I missed most of the rest of the conference. Luckily the demo room was the best part of IOD! If you missed it, you missed out on demos including DataStage, QualityStage, the MDM Workbench (with the user interface generator), and integration of Information Server tools and MDM Server at a rapid pace. (Okay, there were lots of other good bits but I’ve seen some excellent feedback comments from people who visited the demo room.)

InfoSphere demo room

InfoSphere demo room

One thing I was disappointed to miss was the Blogging Birds of a Feather (BOF) session on Wednesday although, since they weren’t offering free drinks like one of the other BOFs, it seems there weren’t many people there. I might have made it if Twitter hadn’t regressed as much as it has since the MDM Summit but that’s a subject for another day.

I did manage to escape our demo stand a few times during the week to find out more about IBM mashups, with some excellent sessions and even better chats. Just signed up for Lotus Greenhouse to play with some of the tools that were on show. The demo room was all packed up on Thursday night, so I made the most of the Friday morning for another mashup session, an excellent mashup usability workshop and (slight tangent here) the “Virtual Worlds and Databases: In-world Tools Using External Databases” session which I’m glad I got to. There’s a hint of what Lance covered on the Database Magazine Profiles in Innovation.

I’ve been on the look out for more of what I didn’t get to see, and this is the random selection of IOD articles I’ve stumbled across so far:

Plus Alex has a handy guide for a stay in Las Vegas, including a much better shot of the Excalibur hotel I was staying in than I managed to get- a very very silly hotel!

Update: just been sent a link to some brilliant photos of the demo room! There’s also one in there showing the globes that bounced out of the way of shadows when people walked in front of the projectors, which I enjoyed on the way to breakfast each morning- I’m easily entertained! (12 Nov 2008)

Master Data Management Summit Day 1

Back from first day at that MDM Summit Europe, so a few rough and ready notes I scribbled down along the way. (Might return to tidy them up later in the week… or perhaps not!)

First up was the keynote from conference chairman Aaron Zornes. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the need for flexibility in mashing up data… yep, mash-up. I’d already been pondering how mash-ups could apply to MDM in light of recent Lotus Mashups and my new job. It was also interesting to note that MDM could be the first experience of SOA for a company. SOA was mentioned a couple of times through the day as being a big help for MDM technology.

Second up was David Corrigan who did a good job talking about trends in MDM rather than specific details on IBM products. He touched on the danger of building silos of master data, and there was some hint of this in some of the other sessions I went to. Something I hadn’t heard before was the goal to have the right view of data, not simply a single view of data. (Quick show of hands shows that the audience is largely from IT not business side.) Good news for my new job is that MDM user interfaces are among the five key product requirements. His biggest sales pitch for IBM was the large established client community that already exists for IBM MDM products. One example being PostFinance and Jochen Schneider described their project. I guess more of them might be found at the British Library for IOD UK tomorrow.

Last keynote was from Colin Richard who talked about data governance. As he predicted, “Data Quality Firewall” stood out as a new meme here! (That’s not all he said but it was hard to remember the rest after that great phrase!)

Next up I chose Ed Wrazen’s industry innovation session. He mentioned a growing spreadsheet mentality in business and, here’s that word again, a desire to mash up data from different systems because it takes IT too long to make changes to production infrastructure. Hmmm, spreadsheets2.0?

I started the afternoon on track 2 with Tony Richardson’s presentation about ContactPoint. This is master data on a national scale. Web services seem to be a key component, allowing end users to carry on using the systems they are familiar with, just now equipped with an interface to ContactPoint. He also mentioned the security aspects but disappointingly didn’t go into them in any detail. In contrast with prereqs mentioned elsewhere, a feature of ContactPoint was that there were no reliable unique identifiers.

Next up in track 2 was a panel on best practices in government services. Kathy Watts, Ian Cohen and Tony Ellis answered questions from the audience on linking data governance with MDM, problems and how to secure business sponsorship.

For a bit of variety I switched to Kimi Walker and Kjell Wittmaack talking about MDM in large enterprises in track 3. Another mention of data in spreadsheets- I see a pattern emerging! They showed a bit more detail on some possible metrics to build a business case for MDM. The data owners and roles were interesting, especially the acknowledgment that there needed to be well defined paths to escalate problems- a single owner could not know everything about data that has homes across the business.

And finally, for today at least, another IBM customer. Peter Stocker and Paul Theriault tackled tactical problems to strategic solutions. Project management 101 was a reminder that MDM should primarily be a business journey. Indeed, referring to MDM could be counter productive if the business perception is hostile to “IT science projects.” Focusing on a sound business case for short term payback means they can stop after solving an immediate problem, but they have paved the way to build out the MDM vision if the business supports future projects.

Canteen Mash

Over lunch we were discussing how it would be handy to know whether a paycut would be covered by cost savings of a shorter commute. A mushup to do the calculation for you seemed pretty doable, and you could use the same thing to find out how much money you’d save working at home a couple of days a week. Oh yes, and the environment etc.!

Well, it seems that there are at least a couple of mashups already that do part of the job. Unfortunately both these examples are a bit US-centric and don’t take in to account PAYE (so now I’m being UK centric!) but they’re a good demonstration.

I also discovered that the OS now have an API! Looking through their FAQ, they (or more likely their lawyers) have some funny ideas about how the web works, but still, better than not supporting mashups at all.